Teenage is a phase of change, both mentally and physically. It is also the time for exploring the world, gaining new perspectives and learning to make responsible decisions. However, depression can render this happening and exciting phase of life dull and passive.
The ill-effects of depression are now common knowledge. But do you also know that depression is now considered the most common yet most ignored teenage problem around the world, including India? This fact is also reflected in the research paper, ‘Study of prevalence of depression in adolescent students of a public school,’ by Vivek Bansal et al published in Indian Psychiatry Journal. The study says, ‘3–9% of Indian teenagers meet the criteria for depression at any one time, and at the end of adolescence, as many as 20% of teenagers report a lifetime prevalence of depression’. So, parents, welcome to this new-age reality.
Due to its alarming spread across the teenage population, depression is now developing into a health emergency. Leaving it untreated can adversely affect a teen’s life in many ways. It can affect his academic life by causing absenteeism and deterioration of grades, hurt his relationship with people around him or lead him to substance abuse. Also, untreated depression may negatively impact the development of secondary sex characteristics, and intellectual and executive functions—planning and organising, abstract thinking, ability to understand other’s perspective, social lifestyle, peer relation and acceptance pattern. Intense depression can cause a child to become very self-critical, feel helpless and hopeless and develop a bleak view of the future, and stop planning or thinking about future endeavours. It can also cause a decrease in the sense of self-worth and give rise to suicidal ideations. In some extreme cases, suicide ideators may also attempt committing suicide.
To prevent teens from falling prey to the ill-effects of depression, it is important to nip the malady in the bud by acting early. Here are some of the common symptoms that’ll help you identify whether your teen is depressed:
- A noticeable change in behaviour and mood
- Becoming uncommunicative
- Losing interest or finding it difficult to concentrate on studies
- Showing symptoms of withdrawal like staying at home, not taking phone calls, communicating less, getting frustrated or angry when asked something repeatedly, and preferring to stay away from friends
- Compromising self-care
- Displaying abnormal sleep and appetite patterns like lying in the bed for long hours or munching something without enjoying its taste or flavour
To identify these symptoms in your teen, it is imperative to closely follow his behaviour pattern. Seek immediate help if you notice any of the previously mentioned symptoms (in general, the symptoms should be present for a duration of two weeks).
Once depression is diagnosed, treatment can be initiated through any of the following ways.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy: This therapy aims to reduce psychological distress and maladaptive behaviour by altering the cognitive processes. It is based on the idea that mood and behaviour are largely a product of thought.
- Family therapy: This therapy explores parental relationships, communication style, and expressed emotions within a family. Its aim is to stop unhelpful interactions amongst family members, and help them communicate better and strengthen their relationship.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants work by altering the neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals between different cells in our brain. In depression, two neurotransmitters—serotonin and noradrenalin—stop working properly. Antidepressants increase the activity of these chemicals. However, it is important to remember that most antidepressants have side-effects and should be started only if they are absolutely necessary.
While treating depression through any of the above-mentioned therapies, it is also important to teach positive ‘coping mechanisms’. Coping mechanisms help depressed adolescents deal with situations where they feel overwhelmed, are unable to negotiate challenges, or find it difficult to process their feelings or articulate their needs. In the absence of coping mechanisms, a depressed teen can indulge in self-injurious behaviour or abuse drugs and alcohol. Therefore, it is important to equip teens with coping mechanisms during the treatment process.
Besides therapy, parents also have an important role to play in the treatment of depression. Parents can help their children by encouraging them to discuss issues openly with them. They should encourage their teen to inculcate good sleeping and eating habits, do regular exercise and practise relaxation techniques. Teens should be given time to unwind by prompting them to take part in creative and extra-curricular activities. Instead of being criticised or blamed for failures, teens should be motivated to achieve more. Parents should bear in mind that constructive feedback helps a child understand his strengths.
Most importantly, remember that patience is the key to success. It takes time for an individual to overcome depression. So, give your teen the time and space to deal with the ordeal. Being impatient, snapping out or bursting into tears in front of a depressed teen might just make things worse.
The author is an Assistant Professor and Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone number is 7776936843.